psychology

Should You Trust Your Gut?

I’ve always wondered how powerful business tycoons can invest millions of dollars into fragile start-ups by simply “trusting their gut.” How can they possibly risk colossal amounts of their earnings without extensive research and thought going into an informed decision? And an even more pressing question: how are they usually successful? Perhaps we actually possess some sort of a “gut feeling.”

Should I Trust My Gut?

Well, not exactly. We are not equipped with a superstitial power that indicates what decisions will bring about magnanimous amounts of success in our lives. We can, however, train our intuition into become an extremely helpful guide to just about anything in daily life. Malcolm Gladwell is a regular writer for The New Yorker since 1996 and has published six books around the topic of social psychology. In his infamous novel, Blink: the Power of Thinking without Thinking, he explores concepts of thin-slicing and how intuition informs incredibly accurate decisions. He puts forth the idea that too much information can actually cloud judgement; thus, learning to make effective snap decisions is a vital part of life. Our adaptive unconscious can eventually become an incredible tool to add to our belt in just about any situation.

Intuition on Gut Feelings

However, as much as the idea that our minds can gather bits and pieces of information and come to a conclusion is exciting, it’s also incredibly dangerous. Intuition doesn’t mean that you can observe operating room for 20 minutes and head straight into neurosurgery. Intuition is developed with loads and loads of experience. Business tycoons are accustomed to looking at charts and numbers, so their intuition immediately recognizes the pattern they match with a budding success. I can’t speak for everyone, but I have definitely misjudged people, places, or even ideas in first impressions. Completely relying on our gut can feed into all sorts of bias and stereotypes, causing major errors in judgement. We want to harness intuition to help inform a decision that we are actually entitled to make.

Combining Instinct and Reason: Trusting your gut

Going further, Laura Kutsch, a writer for Scientific American, points out that a combination of instinct and reason should be implemented. She talks about how highly experienced individuals search for patterns when making quick and pressured decisions. These patterns can make an initial judgement that can be further investigated and analyzed. Kutsch brings in ideologies from Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel prize winner in economics, and Judith Williams, a major investor on the television show The Lion’s Den. Their research, along with many other referenced individuals, weighs the benefits and disadvantages of relying on gut feelings. Sometimes, the risk of a snap decision does not reap the reward. However, there are times when the slow process of reasoning is not nearly as effective or efficient as a quick, intuitive decision. Like Gladwell, she believes that intuition is a skill that can be trained into formulating effective decisions. The key to decision-making lies in a combination of intuition and reason: the first serving as a guiding arrow with the latter following quickly behind. Together, we can learn to make better decisions in all aspects of daily life.

Our Brains and Gut Feelings

Our brains are constantly working behind the scenes—think of it like gears spinning in our unconscious minds. In psychology, this is known as thin-slicing: being able to draw conclusions from small selections of interaction. The way I approach this idea is by thinking about our brains as continuously collecting puzzle pieces. In a period of just five minutes, the five senses grasp enough of these puzzle pieces to allow our brain to put together a coherent picture and reach a conclusion. The puzzle could be anything from trusting a significant other to judging anger in a colleague to locking in a major business deal. It’s incredible thinking about how many operations our minds are running simultaneously. Let’s just say, I have a pretty good feeling about what our lives would look like if we can learn to tap into the art of thin-slicing.

Works Cited 

Bonabeau, Eric. “Don’t Trust Your Gut.” Harvard Business Review, 1 Aug. 2014, hbr.org/2003/05/dont-trust-your-gut. Accessed 14 May 2020.

Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink: the Power of Thinking without Thinking. Little, Brown and Co., 2005. Accessed 15 May 2020.

Kutsch, Laura. “Can We Rely on Our Intuition?” Scientific American, Scientific American, 15 Aug. 2019, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/can-we-rely-on-our-intuition/. Accessed 15 May 2020.

Ocklenburg, Sebastian. “Why You Should Not Always Trust Your Intuition.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 24 Apr. 2020, http://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-asymmetric-brain/202004/why-you-should-not-always-trust-your-intuition. Accessed 15 May 2020.

“PwCEIU-Data and Intuition in Big Decision-Making.” Marketing Charts, September 2014. http://www.marketingcharts.com/customer-centric/customer-engagement-45891/attachment/pwceiu-data-intuition-big-decision-making-sept2014. Accessed 14 May 2020.

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